In my first few years in Japan, there is a particular food that I already consider my comfort food here and its THE tonkatsu 豚カツ or pork cutlet. LOL. While it is considered a Japanese food, it is not exactly a type of 和食 or Japanese cuisine but more of a western type 洋食 fusion thing. Im not sure about the etymology of the word カツ as it is a foreign borrowed word but it is likely from “cutlet” カツレツ katsuretsu.
Similar to that of ramen which originally came from China, Tonkatsu was adopted in Japan and given a whole new identity that distinguishes it as an original Japanese food . Tonkatsu is a culmination of what the Japanese loves about western food (its liberal use of oil! I just made this up.) and the Japanese love of umami うま味、depth and heartiness こく、and textures 触感。Although it can be viewed as a simple food, it is the sum or even synergism of different components that makes the tonkatsu delicious or otherwise. Okuda, my favorite tonkatsu place, defined what delicious tonkatsu is to me 6 years ago and up to the present.
At the heart of tonkatsu is the “ton(buta)”-豚, pork. Okuda uses premium grade pork (ロース shoulder loin) which I assume to be from black pigs; kurobuta 黒豚 are highly prized for their marbling, tenderness, and oh so lovely and “clean” non-gamey flavor. Also, newly harvested rice 新米 partners the tonkatsu to provide the mouth a sensation like piping hot pigs laid on warm steaming clouds. LOL. One will know how Okuda prides itself of its ingredients as these are posted on the walls of the restaurant. LOL
Two types of sitting are available at Okuda: floor seating (this kills my legs) and counter seating. The perks of sitting on a counter seat is you see how the tonkatsu is prepared right before you. Pork of generous thickness is tenderized, seasoned with salt, bathed in milk and egg batter before finally being dredged in Japanese bread crumbs パン粉. It gets baptized in a vat of boiling oil and comes out with a golden coat, like a soul revived and cleansed of impurities. It is cut into several pieces, laid on a bed of cabbage, bathed in sauce as a sacrificial “lamb” pig to save salivating mouths and tummies of hungry men and women. LOL
That first bite, that crunch, that wonderful cooked pork aroma and toasty crust, that unresisting tenderness, the sharp-hits-your-nasal-cavity pleasurable pain from Japanese mustard, and the umami-rich savory demiglace sauce or tangy yet salty ponzu sauce; that complicated yet well-orchestrated sensation which redefines the word “delicious” in the pork context. Writing this is making my mouth water. LOL
Several types of tonkatsu are available (request for an English menu if needed). My favorite among them is the mizorekatsu みぞれカツ; tonkatsu topped with grated radish and eaten with ponzu (Soysauce flavored with juices from different citrus fruits). For people who like the sweet and salty, fermented aroma of miso, the miso katsu みそカツ is a good choice. Neri ume katsu ねり梅カツcontains pulp of salted japanese plums which gives you a sharp sour and salty kick and a fruity grassy aroma that contrasts the meaty and savory aroma of pork. For those who like eggs, the katsudon カツ丼, pork cutlet simmered with eggs and onions in a sweet savory broth on a bed of some (actually overwhelming amount) of rice is another option. I get this when I need to eat A LOT! Seafood and beef options are also available but my heart only belongs to pork. LOL
Price: Tonkatsu comes in a set of rice, miso soup and radish pickles. Tonkatsu set meals start from 880 yen (you can select how much rice you want; regular is a lot of rice). The katsudon bowl (large) is 830 yen which contains 2 pieces of pork. There are regular and small sizes too. Remember that the katsudon comes with lots of rice by default so specifically request for the rice to be decreased (still expect lot of rice though but its relatively manageable. LOL). The university American Football club members often dine here so the restaurant’s reference for small, regular, and large might be leaning towards the overwhelming side.
Location: Near the Kyoto University Yoshida/North campus. Easily accessible by bus 3 or 206 (市バス3または206、北方面行き) heading to the north. Check the map below! 🙂